Middle East Crisis: Israel Will Dispatch Team to Hear Biden Administration Worries on Rafah

Middle East Crisis: Israel Will Dispatch Team to Hear Biden Administration Worries on Rafah

Experts project that northern Gaza will face famine conditions as soon as this month, and that half of the enclave’s population will suffer deadly levels of hunger, according to a new report from the global authority that has classified food security crises for decades.

The report, released Monday by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification global initiative, projected that famine is “imminent” for the 300,000 Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza, where such conditions will develop by the end of May. And by mid-July, as many as 1.1 million people in Gaza could face what the group characterized as the worst stage of hunger: an “extreme lack of food,” and severe levels of starvation, death, destitution and acute malnutrition.


Bar chart shows the proportion of Gaza’s northern governorates and southern governorates that are facing different levels of food insecurity, ranging from stressed (level 2) to famine (level 5).

Food insecurity levels by region

Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis

Food insecurity levels by region

Deir al-Balah and Khan Younis

The group — set up in 2004 by U.N. agencies and international relief groups, and known as the I.P.C. — has classified a famine only twice: in 2011, in parts of Somalia, and in 2017, in parts of South Sudan. In those countries, relatively small proportions of the population met the group’s criteria for famine conditions. In Gaza, the residents of the critically threatened north make up more than 13 percent of the population.

According to the I.P.C., a famine occurs when three conditions are met: at least 20 percent of households have an extreme lack of food; at least 30 percent of children suffer from acute malnutrition; and at least two adults, or four children, for every 10,000 people die daily from starvation or from disease linked to malnutrition. (Although I.P.C. experts conduct and review the analysis necessary to classify a famine, only government and top U.N. officials can officially make an official declaration.)

The report noted that the first condition had already been met, and the second most likely has been reached. Collecting data on the third, malnutrition-linked deaths, is immensely difficult in a war zone, the group has said. The death rate among children appeared higher than for adults, it added, but said it was “impossible to ascertain.”

At least 27 people, including 23 children, have died of malnutrition, dehydration and lack of baby formula, according to the Gazan Health Ministry.

Shimon Freedman, a spokesman for the Israeli agency that oversees policy for the Palestinian territories, COGAT, reiterated on Monday Israel’s position that it “places no limit on the aid that can enter the Gaza Strip.”

And Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, called the report an “out-of-date picture” that “does not take into account the latest developments on the ground,” including major humanitarian initiatives last week. He also said Israel is taking “proactive measures” to expand aid delivery in northern Gaza.

Last week, Israel allowed a small World Food Program convoy to deliver food to northern Gaza for the first time since Feb. 20. After the report was released, the organization’s chief economist, Arif Husain, warned that “time is running out” for many Gazans. “This is why children are dying,” he said. “If we don’t get in there they won’t be dying in 20 or 30s, they will be dying in hundreds and thousands.”

Alex de Waal, an expert on humanitarian crises who has written a book about mass starvation, said the situation in Gaza was “unprecedented.”

“None of us who’ve worked in this field have ever seen anything like this,” he said. “It is absolutely shocking.”

The I.P.C. classifies acute food insecurity in five phases, ranging from minimal to catastrophic.

All of Gaza’s 2.2 million people are in at least the third, or crisis, level of food insecurity, meaning that they are not eating enough and are malnourished. Nearly 40 percent are in the fourth, or emergency, phase, facing extreme food shortages and bearing an increased risk of hunger-related death. And 30 percent are in the most severe stage, indicating they have almost no food and are facing critical levels of starvation and death.

In December, the group warned that famine could occur within six months unless fighting stopped immediately and more humanitarian supplies made it into the territory. “Since then, the conditions necessary to prevent famine have not been met,” the latest report said.

The Famine Review Committee, a group within the I.P.C. which studied the report’s nutrition analysis, said famine could be prevented by “an immediate political decision for a cease-fire together with a significant and immediate increase in humanitarian and commercial access to the entire population of Gaza.”

The U.N. secretary general, António Guterres, called the report “an appalling indictment of conditions on the ground for civilians.” The hunger crisis, he said, “is an entirely man-made disaster — and the report makes clear that it can be halted.”

More than five months after Israel’s campaign against Hamas began, hunger experts estimate that nearly the entire population of Gaza relies on food aid. Israel has eased the restrictions on humanitarian deliveries it established immediately after the Hamas-led attacks of Oct. 7, but aid groups say that the aid reaching Gaza is not sufficient.

UNRWA, the U.N. agency that supports Palestinians, said Gaza is receiving only a fraction of what is necessary to prevent conditions from continuing to deteriorate. Much of that aid does not make it much farther than where it crosses the border.

Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s top diplomat, urged Israel to allow “free, unimpeded, safe humanitarian access.”

“Hunger can’t be used as a weapon of war,” he said in a statement.

Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, rejected Mr. Borrell’s criticism, saying that the country allows extensive aid in by air, land and sea.

Amy Schoenfeld Walker, Elena Shao and Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting.